Careers, like start-ups, are punctuated with breakouts. On a typical résumé—and even on a LinkedIn profile—there’s a reverse chronological listing of jobs held, all presented in the same size type and font. But on its face this is misleading. Our professional lives are not a sequence of equally important jobs. There are always breakout projects, connections, specific experiences, and yes, strokes of luck—that lead to unusually rapid career growth.
Consider Groupon: For the first year or so of its existence, it hobbled along as a site you’ve probably never heard of. Called The Point, it organized groups of people who wanted to pledge unified support for social and civic causes. Andrew Mason, Groupon’s CEO, noticed the site’s users were most engaged when they banded together to increase their buying power. He saw this as an opportunity to break into a different niche. So he pivoted to a new plan and built a site (in a matter of weeks) that exclusively offered group discounts to consumers.
Thanks to his fast action and superb execution, this move massively accelerated the growth trajectory of the company, eventually transforming The Point into Groupon and the multibillion-dollar behemoth it is today. Groupon’s trajectory looks less like the “perception” graph and more like the “reality” graph below.